Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children

by Keith McGowan, read by Laural Merlington
Brilliance Audio, 2010. Audiobook. Fiction
Book: Henry Holt, 2009. 192 pages.

McGowan's modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel is the more disturbing for being contemporary. The story begins with the witch reading from her diary about how she lured children to her home and the tasty meals that followed. When Sol and Connie Blink move to the town where the witch lives now, they don't know their father and icky stepmother have moved there on purpose to get rid of their children (the witch has convenient drop-off locations near movie theaters). Sol is a brilliant but unlucky nerd, whose science fair project goes badly awry because his little sister Connie has been secretly fiddling with it. Connie is precocious in an often annoying way, and the two soon figure out that the overly friendly Mrs. Holaderry is up to no good, when they find her little dog with a human bone in his jaws. When the two think they are outwitting the witch, they are actually running right into her clutches. In the frightening closing scenes, Sol and Connie manage to escape and push the witch into her own firepit, but unlike in Hansel and Gretel she gets back out, leaving the (oven) door open for a sequel. . . . In the award-winning audio version, Laural Merlington is a frightening witch, her tone unctuous but dripping with menace, and it is definitely not for children prone to nightmares. But kids who like to get just a little bit scared will love the dark comedy of McGowan's story.

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